Supernatural Fiction posted October 28, 2014


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the moors are no place for a girl lost to love

The Legend of Lord Fonteyne

by mfowler

The legend fascinated me as a boy growing up on the moors. Now it terrifies me.

Kyrall Castle is the prison of the heart. It's the home of unrequited love. Its foreboding walls encase the female innocents of romance, who through no fault of their own, have fallen for a man who's failed to share their affections.

Such is my dilemma. Sweet Caroline Brown, youngest daughter of the Reverend Brown of Malmsbury, had for some time expressed her dearest affections for me through her good friend, my sister, Lady Jane Western. Her comments were most flattering and stirred my heart to passions not felt before. As the heir of Malmsbury Downs, however, I was reticent to respond to the young lady's intimations, as I had no wish to embarrass her with false expectations of romance in return.

Jane was insistent that I consider Caroline as a suitable companion.'Oh, Richard, you are such a snob. People marry outside of their class all of the time nowadays. Well, in London, they do. I've been reliably informed by Charlotte Dunbar, who knows about these sorts of things.' Despite her protestations, my mind was firmly set on marrying a more suitable woman.

Unfortunately, I did see in Miss Brown, qualities of rustic beauty, and fine intelligence in her dark, almond shaped eyes. And, I was somewhat smitten, without ever revealing the slightest hint of feeling for the poor girl.

In time, Caroline withdrew from village life and hid away in the rectory, convinced that love was not to be hers. 'Oh, Richard, she pines so. Her heart is broken into shards of self-doubt. When I told her that you had your heart set on marrying one of your own class, she gave up hope. Please visit her and try to cheer her up.' Jane is my beloved sister, but it is to me that the task of preserving family name and honour will fall. So I declined to help.

I am following the course of Malmsbury Stream to near its headwaters on the Dark Moor. Kyrall Castle sits above a waterfall situated near the highest point of the moors. Its origins are mediaeval, as is the legend about unwanted lovers' destinies. The tale springs from tragedy that befell its last occupant. The legend was related to me by my father when I was a young teen. He was keen to prepare me for life, be it seemly, or mystifying.

My horse is nervous. It seems wary of the rills and gullies that have eroded near the watercourse. Its flanks quiver at the touch of my spurs, as if my urgings are taking it to some dangerous place.

My mission is one motivated by guilt, and by love. Sweet Caroline disappeared three days hence. Her diary bespoke of unrequited love for me and the despair she felt in her loneliness. Jane related this to me with great urgency, 'The Reverend Brown and his wife are at their wits' end. When they found her missing and read her diary, they began to fear for her sanity. The farmhands and villagers have scoured the moors, but to no avail.'

I've taken on this quest in the hope of recovering the girl before it's too late. The portents aren't good. The flocks of ravens that circled the Rectory and which sat mysteriously on the eaves of the house each night since her retreat into loneliness, are at the centre of the legend. The story tells that the dark birds are the servants of the ogre, Lord Fonteyn, who hanged himself in the courtyard of his castle in 1394. His ugly nature and physical deformities precluded him from forming a marriage to perpetuate the Fonteyn lineage. In death, he is said to take unrequited lovers of the moors and imprison them in his castle till they agree to be his bride. If the poor girl refuses him on too many occasions, their souls are ripped from their being and consigned to live in purgatory with the ogre for the rest of time.

The legend is closely connected to my family, as it was a family ancestor, Lady Caroline Western, who had been the ogre's first victim. She had been jilted by Sir Humphrey Fonteyne (Lord Fonteyn's second cousin) and retreated to a life of solitude at our ancestral home. She disappeared one evening after sightings of ravens had been reported. She was never seen again.

I hear the dull roar of falling water, certainly from the waterfall below the castle. I walk my horse carefully along the stream towards the black pool below the falls, not wanting to arouse attention, while at the same time, being hidden from view by the cascades ahead.

A cacophony of high-pitched noise emerges from near the falling water. My steed jerks and whinnies at the intrusion of a stream of tiny bats as they wing their way into the early evening sky. I reason that a cave lies behind the stream and may be one of the secret entry points so popular with castle owners in earlier times. I tether the horse to a thicket by the pool and go in search of a hoped-for entrance.

I don't know how long Caroline can hold out, or if my suspicions of supernatural foul play, do indeed have any veracity whatsoever. But, I am right about the secret entrance. It's a narrow gap behind the water's veil, that leads into a widening cavern barely lit by cracks in the upper rock. The air is cold and moist, and the stench of bat pervades the entire space. At the far side of the cavern, a broken iron door hangs precariously off the wall.

The door slams heavily to the ground as I push past. The echo of its fall reverberates within the cave and my heart stops for a moment. A flight of roughly hewn steps leads up a narrow, dark passage to a room within the castle. The walls are bare, all bar spiders' webs which cover its walls like frosted tapestries. I draw my musket in the vain hope that it might protect me from a ghost or something even more sinister.

I search the wing of the castle to which I've been led. It's clear that no human habitation has taken place here for a very long time. Occasional piles of stone, rubble from decaying walls and roofs are scattered about the courtyard. Ominously, the only signs of life are the ravens which circle above like black wraiths of fate.

I scream, 'Where is my Caroline?' My voice echoes like a thousand strong choir of misfit voices, and the ravens scatter on the wind.

Behind two huge wooden doors, I find a capacious room which I suspect was the Great Hall of the castle. The room is scattered with human bones. Several skulls are spread about the floor. I feel the cold chill of fear enveloping my being. Yet, there is no-one about to fear.

'Caroline! Caroline!' I cry. A hushed murmur emerges from the near corner of the room. Lying crumpled like a rag doll discarded by a cruel owner, is the limp body of Caroline. She breathes in tiny bursts and I feel her heart trying as I clutch her close.

Suddenly, the room fills with a what seems to be a thousand blackbirds shrieking and swooping me as I hold the girl close for protection. Their movements are chaotic and vicious as they peck at my fending arms and legs. A shroud of black mist hovers above the frenzy and I sense the presence of something far darker than a flight of crazed feathers.

I scream, 'You shan't take my woman, Lord Fonteyne. I love her more than you ever could.' The fear and passion I feel simultaneously, have released these words from my shamed heart. I free my arm and fire the loaded musket. The birds scatter in confusion but the black fog descends upon us.

I feel movement in my arms. Caroline has awoken.

'You love me,' she whispers.

'Yes, have for a long time,' I say. The shroud swirls with furious intensity, swings and rolls like a dying beast, and then with the shape of a whirlwind disappears through a gaping crack in the hall's roof.

The legend also contended that only a rescue by a true love of one of his victims would break the accursed cycle. Lord Fonteyne would be released from the grip of his deep distress and move on to his destiny in Hell.

The sky above the moors gradually lightens and the courtyard bathes in soft sunlight. The ravens have faded into history, and it seems that my requited love for sweet Caroline Brown has saved the day.

Four weeks pass before Caroline is strong enough to leave her bed. Jane and I visit the Rectory each day, but today I am able to speak alone with her for the first time since her horrendous ordeal. We stroll alone in the rose garden.

'Lord Western, I am overcome with gratitude for what you did for me. Please accept my sincerest thank-you. Saying you loved me released me from the grip of that beast. He was close to pillaging my soul because I denied him.' She is lovely to my eye and every word she speaks bewitches me.

'Miss Brown... I...I  knew about the legend. I knew it must have been Lord Fonteyne's ghost birds that had taken you. It was time to rid the moors of his tyranny.'

'Your courage is immense, sir. My love for you is as true as my gratitude. I am your servant, sir.' I have no designs on Caroline's servitude. It is her gentle manner and quiet strength that make my heart drum uncontrollably.

'I have told your father and the locals that you were taken by kidnappers demanding an unreasonable ransom. The legend, the fact of it, is in the past, Miss Brown. I told them that I paid the price to rid the region of these criminals. That is what I said, as I want you to live your life unblemished by pointless gossip.'

'Your gallantry is unsurpassed, sir.'
I take my leave, but offer an invitation to sup with my family on the morrow. 'Miss Brown. I wish to formally introduce you to the Western household. It is my intention to ensure your love is no longer unreturned.'

Sweet Caroline blushes behind a quickening fan, as I leave, a happy man.

 


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